Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Communication Studies

First Advisor

Erin K. Willer

Second Advisor

Mary Claire Loftus

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Suter

Fourth Advisor

Rachel Feder


Communication, Bereavement


The communication bereaved parents have with family members, friends, colleagues, and healthcare providers following the death of a child can serve as a great comfort or exacerbate their grief. In order to understand this communication and why bereaved parents find it helpful or harmful, this study examines bereaved parents' experiences of compassionate and hurtful communication using the frameworks of memorable messages (Stohl & Reardon, 1981) and attribution theory (Jones & Davis, 1965; Kelley, 1967). Fifty bereaved parents who lost a child between birth and 25-years-old completed an online survey. Tracy’s (2018) iterative analysis method revealed four types of compassionate messages: acknowledging the loss, recognizing their capabilities, talking about the deceased child, and being there. Parents reported attributions for compassionate messages, including feeling understood and feeling acknowledged. Hurtful message types including minimizing the loss, centering the self, rationalizing with spirituality, suggesting the bereaved lacks self-competence, and blaming the bereaved. Attribution types for hurtful messages included minimizing the life of the child, suggesting the child is replaceable, blaming the bereaved, and lacking empathy. Investigating memorable messages and their attributions provides insight into how bereaved parents interpret communication surrounding the grieving process. Thus, the results of the present study provide useful information for practitioners and loved ones supporting bereaved parents.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

April Samaras


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

122 pgs